Sunday, December 11, 2011

hope is where the heart is

As I was walking down the railroad tracks this morning to catch a bus into Seattle, I was greeted by the most beautiful view of the Olympic mountains. Pinks and purples illuminated its snow peaked majesty as it towered over the glistening lake below. The view was spectacular. I thought to myself about how lucky I am to be surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. It was a moment where I just stopped to breathe in the wonder of my home. This is a piece of what fills my heart with gratitude upon my return.

Leaving a familiar place is never easy and I don't think it is ever meant to be. It's a reminder that what you've taken a hold of has became yours and it is in fact, a part of you. The last few nights before we flew out were spent reckless and free, soaking in every second with one another. We stayed up running around wildly, playing tag and hide and seek barefoot until the wee hours of the morning. It was as if we had all reverted to our childhood, forgetting the creeping reality of our departure. We laughed hard, soaked in the sun and shared our fears of leaving. A group of us didn't even begin packing our bags until 3am in the early morning before we were leaving. We tried to hold onto every moment, knowing that we would soon have to let it go. 

The looks from our house staff is what made it the most difficult as we said our goodbyes. Their saddened faces clung to my heart as our hands swept the air while we waved from the car. I thought about how hard it must be for them to invest so much of their lives into students each semester who inevitably will leave. Goodbyes that don't promise future hellos are truly awful. It didn't help the situation either that the weather the last two days were some of the warmest we had seen in the recent months. The landscape of the hills, brushed kindly with the light of the sun were the images that I wanted to stick with me forever.

Our plane ride was tiring to say the least but it was with the comfort of friends and that made it bearable. We went from Rwanda to Uganda to Ethiopia to Rome to DC. It was 26 hours of flying and watching the sun rise and set in the sky above to bring us back to the motherland. I was dreading it, only because it was here that I knew I would have to part ways from all my new found friends. The majority all live on the East Coast and were a hop, skip and a jump away from home. I on the other hand, had an added 9 hours to travel with only the company of strangers. 

Saying goodbye in the airport was beyond bitter, I could only hope sweetness would find its way to me later. They were some of the hardest goodbyes I've given yet. I spent every day with these people for the last four months. We learned together, discovered the rigged, pressing, and difficult things in life, side by side with one another. We shared tears and more laughter than your gut can possibly handle plus the beauty of living and growing in a foreign land. This group of people who were once peculiar strangers quickly became like a tight knit family to us all. Now, as we've spread out across the country we're left with texts, phone calls, and computer images to connect us as we share in the difficulties and particulars of returning.

 Being back comes with a new set of challenges and joys. Some days there is a longing and nostalgia that feels as though it could never be quenched. It just sorta drops down into your heart and gut like a heavy stone that you then carry around with you. Other days it feels as though you never even left. I find those days to be the hardest. While life has carried on for the rest of my friends and family, I've gone through an experience that has marked and changed me in ways that are difficult to even begin to describe. Picking up right where I left off is no longer an option after these four months. 

Now, I am left to reconcile and wrestle with what I've learned and found in Africa as I carry it with me while in America. It is an uncomfortable and difficult process, like straddling two countries and trying to find a balance in it. I am only reminded that wherever I am, to throw myself into it wholeheartedly and passionately. Thank-you for reading along with me all the way from Uganda to Rwanda. I ask that you wouldn't stop here, for I know this won't be the last time I find myself in the beautiful continent of Africa.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

a whole lot of goodness!

"There's gonna be a wedding... you're invited." -Aidah (our house cook).
A couple of days ago our neighbors had set up this giant white tent and started MCing right in the middle of our literature class. Come to find out that our neighbors were putting on a wedding and apparently we were invited. Sometimes our house staff forgets to tell us things. But don't worry, we used our handy dandy trampoline to see right over the fence at the festivities. Sure, we probably could've walked on over but where's the fun in that? And yes, you read correctly... our Student Life Coordinators unearthed the pieces for a trampoline last week! Go ED Africa will certainly never be the same. Even though the workload has been backbreaking, we always manage to find a mental break by revisiting our childhood years and jumping wildly.

The last couple of weeks have been such a joy. We had an incredible Thanksgiving feast with over 20 guests and even got to play American football in the National Stadium! Definitely felt like a dream tackling my housemates on the very field that I watched Rwanda beat Eritrea. The food was of course beyond delicious and we even had the macy's day parade playing on the projector throughout the day.

beaches in Gisene
Two weeks back a group of us students took a weekend trip in the western province to a place called Gisene. It's right on the boarder of Congo on the biggest lake in Rwanda. It's one of the "must visit" spots of Rwanda. During the three hour bus ride we traveled through the mountains where the infamous silver back gorillas live. I was hoping to spot one with my pretty little eye, avoiding the $500 fee that it costs to travel into the mountains to see them. It was unsuccessful. But! We did get to see the volcano erupting just 30 miles from us which was absolutely spectacular in the dark of the night. We also had made reservations for a hotel but planned on searching for a hostile once we arrived to find some cheaper accommodations. We didn't quite think that one through since we didn't factor in how we'd be arriving at night and had absolutely no idea where the heck we where (or really even the hotel where we made our reservations). So when our bus finally stopped at where we assumed could only be Gisene, we were searching around for our next move. Miraculously we happened to run into a nun who pointed us towards a nearby church hostel where we slept for only $3 bucks. There are definitely nun like the catholics, that's for sure!

learning to weave but most just poking myself with the needle
cultivating and planting sweet potato
our day spent with the artisans
Pottery at a studio in Butare
We're now in the final week here in Rwanda. It feels totally unreal that it's actually December. Nothing about this place reminds me that it's winter and soon it'll be Christmas. I think we're all in a bit of denial that it's really almost been 4 months. I think the only thing that has reminded me of how long it's actually been is how much my hair has grown since I first flew here. We've got a lot of living to do in this last week!